Public Consultation on Organochlorines Launched

  • Deborah Morris
Associate Minister for the Environment

Associate Environment Minister Hon Deborah Morris today launched the public consultation phase of a comprehensive Government programme to study organochlorine pollutants in New Zealand and develop proposals for control and clean-up.

The organochlorines under study were some chlorine-containing chemicals, including dioxins and PCBs.

Ms Morris said that with a two-year stocktake of background environmental levels of the most persistent of these chemicals due to be completed later this year, Government now wanted to start giving New Zealanders an opportunity to have a say about setting standards and guidelines for clean up and the control of industrial emissions.

"Over the coming year we want to build up the public profile of this important programme. Our intention is that this effort will culminate in a formal round of public consultation to ensure standards and guidelines for organochlorines are developed in line with community expectations. This will also contribute to the Coalition's goal of phase-out," she said.

Releasing a new information brochure produced by the Ministry for the Environment, the Minister said the Government was keen to provide an opportunity for interested people to make an input to the programme at this stage.

"By filling in the return slip at the back, individuals can obtain more detailed information and/or indicate their interest in wanting to discuss the programme.

"It is a simple document about complex issues, normally the preserve of research scientists. The other key role of the brochure is to help ensure people have reliable and accessible information on this important topic.

"In the lead-up to the new millennium, we want New Zealanders to help us define the issues and concerns and help us to find solutions we can all live with," she said.

Ms Morris explained that the chemicals under scrutiny in the investigation phase of the four year organochlorines programme were either no longer used in New Zealand, or were unwanted by-products of industrialisation.

Ten organochlorine chemicals or groups of chemicals had been singled out for study:

Dioxins - produced as unwanted by-products from a number of industrial activities, including incineration. Dioxin-contaminated wastes have also resulted from the use of pentachlorophenol, and from the use of chlorine in pulp and paper manufacture;

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) - once used in the electrical supply industry;

PCP (pentachlorophenol) - a fungicide once used extensively by New Zealand sawmills;

DDT - an insecticide once used worldwide in horticulture and agriculture.

Dieldrin - used as an agricultural insecticide, and, along with chlordane, in the timber processing industry;
The remaining organochlorine pesticides under study were used less extensively in New Zealand agriculture. They are aldrin, lindane, hexachlorobenzene and heptachlor.

"The first task is to find out what levels of these chemicals exist in our air, soil and water and ecosystems," she said.

"The investigations phase has seen the Ministry commission a wide range of research to check organochlorine levels in the environment, in food and in people. Included here are detailed studies in air, soil and the aquatic environment.

"We know that people are exposed to organochlorines mainly through their food intake. This is also under investigation, with a study underway on dietary intake, and, by measuring organochlorine levels in blood, the extent to which these contaminants are present in our bodies."